Friday, May 22, 2009

Foster Parenting and The Church

I came across this article recently and have been thinking about it.  A lot.  I don't  agree with everything that he has to say (his confrontational approach isn't really my style), but I can't argue with the heart behind it. I also think there are other ways to live out this verse besides foster parenting (adoption, volunteering your time with at-risk kids for example) and he doesn't touch on those.

Any thoughts?  I would love to hear what you think.

Is the evangelical church ready for "true religion"?  

By: Warren Smith

For some reason, I’ve been thinking a lot about foster children. I’m not 100 percent sure why. I’ve never been a foster child, nor have I been a foster parent.

But I was reading the book of James the other day, and I came across this verse: “This is true religion, pure and undefiled in the sight of God, to look after widows and orphans in their time of need.”

When I read that verse, I was stopped dead in my tracks. First of all, here’s a verse that could not be more plain. If we want our religious activities to please God, then we’d better be looking after widows and orphans. End of story. 

So, the next question is: How are we doing with that clear command? Where are the widows and orphans in out culture today, and what are we doing about them? 

Perhaps the largest group of orphans in America are those children in our foster care system. According to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) Report, there were 523,000 in the foster care system in the United States on September 30, 2003. That means that, on average, there are 10,000 kids in every state. Probably hundreds living all around me – and you – right now. 

But who is looking after these orphans? Well, unfortunately, it is mostly NOT the church or church-going people.

To be fair, in a system this large, there are undoubtedly many wonderful, caring, and selfless foster parents. I know of one family, for example, that over a 25 year period has cared for more than 80 foster children. Any money they’ve received they’ve plowed back into the care and education of the children. 

But it is also fair to say that since most counties across the country pay foster parents to look after these kids, many foster parents become foster parents at least in part because of these payments from the government, which can be as much as $1000 per month per child. Can you do the math? The government spends $500-million dollars A MONTH to keep kids in foster homes. That’s $6-billion a year.

I go to a fairly large, theologically conservative, evangelical church. Our budget is nearly $1-million a year. We just spent $2-million on a new building. I was even on the building committee. But I don’t know if we’ve ever spent one dime, or taken one hour, to address this issue in our community. 

My guess is that your church is the same way. Now, we’ll spend thousands to go on a short-term missions trip to Haiti or Africa, but we won’t go to the trouble of letting the government pay us to look after these precious children right in our own neighborhood? Forgive me for saying it this bluntly, but something is badly out of whack with our values of the evangelical church when it could allow this to happen.

What’s particularly interesting is that the average stay in a foster home is 18months. Think about that. It’s not a lifetime sentence to look after these children. It’s less than 2 years. But that sure is a long time for an 8-year-old. In two years, you can change that kid’s life. You can share God’s saving grace with him in both word and deed. It’s enough time to get a kid behind grade level up to grade level. You can change his life forever, and get paid for it.

Becoming a foster parent is about the last thing on my list right now. And my guess is that it is on yours, too. But I’m going to look into it. I’m going to see what I have to do. I’m going to see if my church can offer a training program in foster parenting.

Because even though it’s the last thing on my list now, it’s also becoming apparent to me that if my religion is worth anything in God’s eyes, maybe it should be the first thing.

Warren Smith is the publisher of the Evangelical Press News Service. His new book, “My Lover’s Quarrel With The Evangelical Church,” is now available.

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Tori said...

Ok, definitely don't like the confrontational style, and I agree Courtney, there are lots of ways to impact "orphans" besides becoming a foster parent.

Foster parenting has to be a calling, and you definitely don't do it long just for the money...the state doesn't pay enough for some of the stuff you go through with these children and the way your heart breaks when you have to send them back into the chaos they've come from. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely LOVE being a foster parent, but I DON'T do it for the money.

Adoption is certainly another way to look after the orphans. But on the other hand, just being a friend to a child can make a huge impact. My foster kids talk about all the great adults they know because they live in my home. ALL of these people are making an impact of the children and most are not other foster parents, they are just your everyday caring adults who say hello or show interest in the kids.

I would never want anyone to feel shamed into becoming a foster parent because they likely won't make a positive impact. And that seems like what this guy is doing.

Anyway, I've gotten really long so I'll get off my soap box now.
Thanks for posting.

Courtney said...

Yes Tori, I think you hit on a huge flaw in his approach. The way he phrases some things DOES sound like he is stressing the money issue. I honestly wanted to delete that portion because it didn't sit right with me, but I didn't feel right about posting the article and altering it to my liking.

Great thoughts! I wanted to post it just to get some discussion going and here we go! Thanks for taking the time to share!

Jen said...

It seems like he is bringing in the money thing a lot. While foster parenting can be good for some, I don't think it's the only way to care for the orphans.

And obviously that doesn't work well in some countries where there are a large number of orphans. Here, the ones that have the means to care for orphans in a foster parenting style, are a totally different culture than the kids who need to be cared for. I think it is more traumatizing to uproot them from the only culture they've ever known. You definitely need to use the wisdom of the Lord. There's not a pat answer across the board.

Amy Bottomly said...

Courts, I think the article is yes a little too focused on money but it definitely creates some good thoughts and discussion! I think it easy, at least for me, to NOT think of orphans as kids in the US foster care system. I tend to think of orphans as living in other countries.
I very much believe that the church is not doing enough to care for orphans both in the US and internationally. I also agree though that you don't want to guilt people into foster parenting or adopting. For me it is pretty easy to get worked up and passionate about caring for the least of these. I struggle with thinking everyone should be doing more!!!! Then I remember that I did not always want to adopt.I didn't always care as much as I do now. It was a journey of awakening (to use a line from our book)that got me where I am today. I wish the church talked about the orphan crisis more. I wish the church talked about the need for foster parents too! I think that the more belivers become exposed to these crisis' that are so close to the heart of Jesus that it will become impossible to not care. Isn't there a bible verse that says something like once you know or your eyes have seen you can't pretend you didn't know or didn't see. (Total paraphrase and its possible that its not a verse but just a quote. I have seen it on a lot of blogs though). Love you and your heart!

Amy Bottomly said...

I found the verse:
"Once our eyes are opened, we can't pretend we don't know what to do. God, who weighs our hearts and keeps our souls, knows that we know, and holds us responsible to act" Proverbs 24:12

juliadhull said...

So I'm late to this discussion...typical of me. ;)
I've read to many stories of abusive foster parents, so there are people who foster just for the money. Plain fact. I kinda read the writers words as him just stating the facts. Having felt much like a foster child for the majority of the 13 places I lived growing up, I've thought about fostering for years, why I have yet to do it, I really don't know. One thing I'm in agreement with the author though is that, if I ever do cross that threshold and open my heart and home to foster, I truly believe I will be sharing the heart of Christ.